Mary Lederleitner on Men & Women Working Together in Ministry

Each workplace has a guiding metaphor about women, and while most never bring it out into the open for honest dialogue and critique, it communicates loudly throughout an organization’s culture, policies, processes, and how people relate with one another.

As I reflect on research I conducted with talented women from approximately 30 nations who are serving and leading in God’s mission, I believe unearthing and critiquing the guiding metaphor about women in our ministries and workplaces is one of the most important leadership tasks in our era.

Females make up more than half of the people in our congregations and more than half of the global mission work force. To do their best work, they need a guiding metaphor that is affirming of their gender and humanity.

Women as Temptresses Who Cause Men to Stumble

Sometimes, it feels like the prevailing metaphor in many evangelical ministries and workplaces is “women are temptresses.” Ever since Eve took a bite of that forbidden fruit, it can feel like women are blamed for many of men’s shortcomings and character defects,especially in the area of sexuality.

In all my years of ministry, I have yet to meet one woman leading in God’s mission who had the intent of snaring a man and leading him down a destructive sexual path.

Nevertheless, because of this guiding metaphor, women leaders are often separated from men and frequently shut out of opportunities that impede their development. I believe in exercising wisdom when it comes to sexual temptation, just as I adhere to wisdom when establishing processes in other areas such as integrity regarding how money is handled.

There are basic principles that are simply wise to implement in a wide array of situations because we do not always know what sins people are struggling with in their hearts. However, care needs to be taken to ensure women are not marginalized in the process.

In the research, a woman in a church planting mission who oversees leadership development for women gave this example:

Part of it is if you have married men and single women in leadership and they never eat together. Or, the men go out for lunch and they are talking about team issues and leadership and vision, and they don’t take the single women or even the married women. Then women don’t get to participate in setting vision and things like that. For years people have tried the – let’s just not be alone with a single woman – but that doesn’t really work when you look at leadership positions in missions. There is moral failure even with people who espouse that view. So there’s got to be an inner transformation. I really think for women’s voices to be heard, there needs to be a way to talk together, relate together, and love each other well.

After being on the receiving end of this metaphor for much of her life, a talented medical missionary said she has always remained celibate as a single woman. But people always assume the worst about her, as though she is promiscuous or she is wanting to have relationships with married men. She said, “Somehow I have been made to feel that I am responsible for the sexuality of all the people with whom I have contact.”

While there are numerous metaphors that can be potentially damaging, this one causes many women to have feelings of insecurity or shame. Many worry about inadvertently wearing the wrong thing, inadvertently coming across as too warm and caring, inadvertently looking too pretty, inadvertently showing some positive trait that might cause a man in the ministry to like us too much, etc.

It undercuts the message of the gospel by sending contradictory messages to women who are seeking to be faithful disciples of Christ. Is this what our loving God wants women to be experiencing as they serve and lead in his mission? Does this metaphor reveal how God views his daughters? Might there be a better biblical metaphor that can and should be shaping our interactions?

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Source: Christianity Today